Opportunities and pitfalls of social media research in rare genetic diseases: a systematic review

Emily G. Miller, Amanda L. Woodward, Grace Flinchum, Jennifer L. Young, Holly K. Tabor, Meghan C. Halley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Purpose: Social media may be particularly valuable in research in rare genetic diseases because of the low numbers of patients and the rare disease community’s robust online presence. The goal of this systematic review was to understand how social media is currently used in rare disease research and the characteristics of the participants in these studies. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of six databases to identify studies published in English between January 2004 and November 2020, of which 120 met inclusion criteria. Results: Most studies were observational (n = 114, 95.0%) and cross-sectional (n = 107, 89.2%), and more than half (n = 69, 57.5%) utilized only surveys. Only 101 rare diseases were included across all studies. Participant demographics, when reported, were predominantly female (70.1% ± 22.5%) and white (85.0% ± 11.0%) adult patients and caregivers. Conclusion: Despite its potential benefits in rare disease research, the use of social media is still methodologically limited and the participants reached may not be representative of the rare disease population by gender, race, age, or rare disease type. As scholars explore using social media for rare disease research, careful attention should be paid to representativeness when studying this diverse patient community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2250-2259
Number of pages10
JournalGenetics in Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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